Why I Won't Be at Benjamin Netanyahu's Speech

After consulting with my colleagues, my staff, my family, and my conscience, I will regretfully not be attending the address by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the House Chamber on Tuesday.

I do not expect this absence will be much noted or will change the course of history in any significant way, but it is important to me to be clear about why I feel my presence would send the wrong message.

I will not attend Tuesday's speech precisely because I am a strong supporter of the State of Israel and the Israeli people.

I do not want to participate in a political stunt that may have short-term payoffs for partisanship and the conservative parties in both Israel and the United States at the expense of long-term damage to one of the most important international relationships the United States has -- and the most important international relationship the Israelis have.

With the far-right Conservative Political Action Committee conference in Washington last week, with AIPAC gathered this week, with Israeli elections just a couple of weeks away, and with the Majority Party in this Congress desperate to change the subject from the Homeland Security shut-down debacle this week, it is easy to recognize cheap political pandering.

But the House Chamber that has welcomed Prime Ministers, Kings, Queens, and Presidents, is not a prop. It is not a backdrop for the partisan ambitions of those who control the gavel, whether they be Republicans or Democrats. It is not a set for a campaign commercial in Hebrew, English, or any other language.

I think making support for Israel a partisan domestic political issue in the United States is dangerous for the United States and dangerous for Israel. In eleven terms in Congress, my position on the State of Israel and its security and sovereignty is crystal clear. The existence of the State of Israel is important to American security. My record is such that I am neither nervous nor self-conscious about it.

Furthermore, as a Member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, I know that security cooperation between our two countries continues at a high level regardless of the political fabric the Republicans and the Likud Party layer on top. I agree with the Prime Minister of Israel who said Monday that U.S.-Israeli relations remain strong.

So why jeopardize that by accepting an invitation by one political party in the U.S. as it attempts to paint the other party as weak on Israel? Why help them as they paint our duly elected President and Commander in Chief -- duly elected twice -- as weakly American, pro-Muslim or anti-Israel?

It feeds right in to the silliness of Mayor Nine-Eleven, the former Mayor of New York, who has been on TV questioning the patriotism of our democratically elected Head of State. Maybe playing to the cheap seats on an issue as serious as Iran's nuclear ambitions is not the most constructive use of the Prime Minister's time.

Will it help contain the threat of a nuclear Iran that we all worry about? I don't think so. Will it help contain the threat we all face from ISIS and the terrorist ideology? Hardly. Will it bring peace, the rule of law, and moral conduct back to the West Bank, Gaza, Israel or her neighbors? I can't see how it advances any of those goals.

By loaning a finger to the Republican Party so they can stick it in the eye of the President, the Prime Minister weakens Israel's place among nations in this country.

And, honestly, the Prime Minister should think of his own reputation when he accepts invitations from the Republican Majority. These are the people who say they want "regular order" and demand following the originalists' interpretation of the Constitution at every turn. Yet, somehow, they were unable to consult with the White House, the State Department or anyone on my side of the aisle when they invited the Prime Minister. Republicans stepped into foreign policy in a ham-handed way, dabbling in foreign electioneering in an astounding display of irregular order.

Surely in Israel the agencies that handle homeland security, border protection, customs and airport security are funded for more than a week or even a couple of months. Having visited several times, I can say with some confidence that the Prime Minister and the Knesset do not regularly lurch from spending crisis to spending crisis on issues related to sovereignty and security in an attempt to score political points over there.

So why does standing with the gang who cannot govern here in the House do anything other than tarnish the Prime Minister's brand and the bipartisan love and support that Israel has enjoyed here for generations?

Better to leave our political leaders in the U.S. alone until they figure out how to pay airport security workers and border guards and to not let the stink of the last few weeks of partisan brinksmanship with our homeland security rub off.

I think it was a bad mistake to issue the invitation in the way it was issued, a bad mistake to accept it, and a bad idea to support the speech by attending it. I can only control what I do, so I have chosen not to attend.